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Posts Tagged ‘lake monsters’

About 100 years ago, a little town called Spoonville stood on the shore of Lake Michigan. Business came and went with the seasons, and times were often hard. Then a clever businessman thought of a plan to draw more tourists.

Moe Kopple was his name, and he ran a nice restaurant and bar right near the shore. When business got too slow, he would get one of his buddies to row out on the lake and then come back with outrageous stories of a water dragon! These stories would run in the local newspaper, and then in the larger papers, and soon a horde of tourists would show up to try and catch a glimpse.

Every year or three, there would be another sighting. Moe always asked a different friend to row out there, so it wouldn’t look too suspicious. Besides, the business was good for everyone, so it became the town’s secret.

One year, Moe asked his friend Sam McGeever to go lake-monster hunting, and he readily agreed. But Sam came back greatly excited. No more mysterious waves or vague shapes — Sam was full of details about the horrible lake monster. Moe scoffed at first, but Sam was totally convinced of what he’d seen. Eventually Moe went out with him to see for himself.

The two men set off in Sam’s boat, Moe teasing that this must be a hoax because everyone knew lake monsters weren’t real. Sam set off straight for a particular spot, and soon Moe saw a commotion ahead of them. To his shock, a terrifying creature erupted from the water. It was huge, with green scales, blazing red eyes, and billows of smoke from a fanged maw. The monster swam toward them. Yelling with fear, both men seized the oars and rowed back to Spoonville as fast as they could.

Now Moe was worried. He told Sam not to talk about the monster any more, for fear of the consequences. If a tourist got eaten, they might never come back again! Sam brooded angrily. He enjoyed the attention from telling his amazing stories, and wanted to show  that he wasn’t a liar. A few days later, he told a friend he was going back out to find some sort of proof. Moe rushed to the dock, trying to dissuade his friend, but it was too late. Sam had already rowed away.

Neither he nor his boat were ever seen again.

 

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Not too long ago, I posted the legend of the Lambton Wyrm, a terrifying dragon who lived in the River Wear. But did you know there are real water-monsters in other rivers of the world?

In fact, two species of giant catfish dwell in deep waters of Africa and the Middle East. The best known of these is the Vundu, a.k.a. Heterobranchus longifilis. This water monster lurks in rivers and lakes from Egypt to the Congo to Zambia. It can grow up to five feet long, with shades of olive and brown on its back and a paler belly. Like many of its kindred, it has prominent barbels, which resemble a crazy mustache. Vundu can breathe water as well as air and are capable of “walking” on land for a few hours.

Like all large fish, the Vundu will eat most anything it can fit in its mouth. Young fish start with insects and bottom creatures, and progress to water birds and small mammals. They also feed on carrion and human garbage that finds its way into their waters. These fish are most active at night, but that hasn’t stopped them developing a killer’s reputation.

Not that Vundu intentionally hunt humans, but when the two clash, it often goes worse for the human. A typical encounter is when a fisherman unknowingly hooks a Vundu. This is especially true if the fisherman doesn’t know what he has and tries to force the fish to the surface. Such a big, strong animal is quite capable of dragging a man off his boat. If the human becomes tangled in the line, he may drown.

Some say these giants have even taken babies from the river banks! They seem able to home in on chemicals like soap, which are associated with humans, and come over to see what they can scrounge. It’s hard to say if this story is true or just represents a parent’s worst fear. However, some fishermen do use soap as a bait, knowing it will attract scavengers like the Vundu.

Although it might not seem like much of a dragon, these fish are true river monsters.

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“Mysterious Creatures that May or May Not Exist,” reads the subtitle. Well, what kid could resist that??

Tales of the Cryptids is a nonfiction book that attempts to document strange and legendary creatures from all over the world. Full disclosure — the author is a good friend of mine. She has a knack for finding weird and fascinating subjects to explore. Although I’m a skeptic of some topics she’s covered, like Sasquatch and Alien Encounters, she doesn’t cheerlead for uncritical acceptance of pseudo-science. Halls, a former reporter, provides good documentation that balances those fascinating legends with possible real-world explanations. She always encourages the child reader to ask questions. That alone is remarkable and much needed in the modern world.

Part of the book is devoted to sea serpents and lake monsters. My favorites! She covers the Loch Ness Monster, but also mentions the Stronsay Beast, “Champy” of Lake Champlain fame, and similar sightings in the Altamaha River, Georgia (USA). Coverage includes interviews with scientists who are trying to rule out the most obvious possibilities. Halls presents popular theories, such as that the Stronsay Beast may have been a partly decomposed basking shark, or that Nessie is a surviving plesiosaur.

Best of all, for me, is an awesome map showing reputed water monsters all over the globe. Some I’ve heard of and some I haven’t. A great reason to to search out information on these mysterious creatures. If you have a curious youngster between about 8 and 14, I whole-heartedly recommend Tales of the Cryptids.

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The last stop on my tour of Famous Lake Monsters brings me back to the good ol’ USA. Lake Champlain is a large, deep lake that lies along the northern border between New York and Vermont, with a small portion extending into Quebec, Canada. Native American tribes knew of a mysterious creature living in the lake from ancient times. Its name among the Abenaki tribe was Tatoskok. Contemporary Vermonters and New Yorkers call it Champ.

Champ’s physical description is quite like that of Nessie and Ogopogo: a big beastie with a very long neck and one or more humps sticking out of the water. The similarity leads optimists to believe that all three lake dwellers are part of a single species — a plesiosaur or ancient whale that somehow clung to existence into modern times. Skeptics counter that this image of the long-necked lake monster has become so widespread that everyone “knows” what a lake monster looks like and therefore repeats it automatically.

The earliest published Champ report dates from 1883, when Sherriff Nathan Mooney claimed he was standing on the shore and saw a “gigantic water serpent” which he estimated to be 25 or 30 feet long. After Mooney’s report became public, other local people came forward with tales of their own sightings. (This was 50 years before Nessie’s big debut, in 1933.)

The legend continued to grow. In july of 1819, a newspaper called the Plattsburgh Republican, reported that a “Captain Crum” had seen a gigantic serpent. This article tried to relate Champ with the 1817 sea serpent sightings at Cape Ann, Massachusetts, which I talked about earlier this summer.

By the end of the 19th Century, stories about Champ were so widespread that P. T. Barnum offered $50,000 to anyone who sold him a Champ body he could display in his circus. (Can you imagine the taxidermist trying to preserve an animal that size??) The bounty was never collected.

As with Nessie and Ogopogo, photographs and recordings claiming to show Champ have appeared. The most famous of these was taken by Sandra Mansi in 1977. Her color photograph appears to show a dark gray body and long neck with small head. A video recorded by two fishermen in 2005 shows similar features. In both cases, nobody could conclusively identify what was in the pictures.

As in Loch Ness, investigators have used sonar and similar advanced equipment to search Lake Champlain’s depths. One such attempt yielded an audio recording of echolocation calls, captured at three separate locations within the lake. Experts reported that the calls were similar to those of Orca or Beluga whales, but couldn’t tie them to any real animal. Neither species of whale is known to inhabit Lake Champlain.

Regardless of scientific findings, Champ’s legend is dear to the people living around Lake Champlain. A baseball team in Vermont is named after Champ, and lakeside towns use the creature as a theme for community festivals. Champ-related tourism is dear to the local economy, too. One alleged sighting, by Frenchman Samuel de Champlain in 1609, was traced to a 1970 magazine article, evidence of how contemporary writers can add to a legend.

In the end, lake monsters are just like every other form of dragon in folklore. We love the idea of them, that beautiful lakes can hide terrifying beasts. The mystery and the fruitless search are part of the thrill.

May it ever be so.

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The second most influential lake monster in the world hails from Canada. Ogopogo is the legendary inhabitant of Lake Okanagan, British Columbia. Native Americans of the region called it Naitaka (“lake demon”) and told white settlers about it from the 19th Century on.

Eye witnesses describe Ogopogo as between 40 and 50 feet long, with several humps showing above the water surface. Many sightings take place around Rattlesnake Island, near Peachland, BC. However, the most famous sighting was in 1926, at Mission Beach, when 30 cars full of people all reported seeing the creature.

A man named Art Folden took a home movie in 1968, which showed a large wake moving across the water, but no clear image of what made the wake. And as recently as 2011, a person with a cel phone captured video of two large objects moving beneath the surface. Again, they could not be identified.

The name, Ogopogo, comes from a 1924 popular song, The Ogo-Pogo, a Funny Fox-Trot. Nobody is sure how the song got to be connected to the lake monster, but it’s fitting because Ogopogo has penetrated into popular culture even more than Nessie.

The legend has been explored in documentary and weird-science shows such as In Search Of (1978) and Unsolved Mysteries (1989), National Geographic’s Is It Real (2005) and Destination Truth (2010). Ogopogo has been a fictional character in episodes of X-Files (1996) and Monster Quest (2009). Anime, video games, children’s books and urban fantasy novels all include or make reference to Ogopogo.

Theories abound on Ogopogo’s true identity. Long-lost plesiosaurs, pre-historic whales, and sturgeon (an impressive fish that can grow to 12 feet long; however, sturgeon are not found in Lake Okanagan). As with most cryptids, no body has ever been recovered, and thus no scientific identification can be made. We are left to wonder what Ogopogo really is… and that’s the best part!

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When you’re talking about lake monsters, one name probably comes to your mind: Nessie, a.k.a. the Loch Ness Monster. Sightings have been reported around Loch Ness since the 6th Century.

According to the legend, an Irish monk named Columba was traveling among the Picts who inhabited the region, presumably in an effort to convert them from their Pagan ways. Columba and his companions came across a funeral near the River Ness. They were told that the dead man had been killed by a water monster. Columba sent one of his friends to swim across the river and back. Sure enough, a great beast pursued the man. Columba confronted the creature, made the sign of the cross, and commanded it to leave. The great beast fled before him, and the monk was later beatified as Saint Columba.

Other reports have been made over the centuries, but the monster became famous after a series of sightings in 1933. On July 22nd of that year, Mr. and Mrs. George Spicer were driving beside the lake when they saw a huge creature (perhaps 25 feet long) with a long neck (perhaps 10 feet) crossing the road in front of them. It lurched across the road and into the loch, leaving trampled vegetation in its wake.

One month later, a man named Arthur Grant claimed that he nearly crashed into something while riding his motorcycle along the lake road at 1:00 a.m. Grant, too, described a huge body and long neck, adding that the beast had seal-like fins rather than feet.

History shows that the road along Loch Ness had only been completed in spring of 1933, allowing more people into what had been a quiet rural area. It also allowed word of these incidents reached British newspapers, where they aroused great interest. Ever since then, people have gone to Loch Ness hoping to see something incredible.

Beginning in November of 1933, photographs began to appear alleged to capture Nessie’s image. The most famous of these is from 1934, when a Dr. Wilson claimed he had been viewing the lake, saw the monster, and rushed for his camera. The resulting image was printed in newspapers and contributed to the sensation.

The so-called “Surgeon’s Photo” has been a focus of investigation in the decades since. Many theories describe explanations from innocent (the image of a circus elephant swimming, with its trunk out of the water so it could breathe) to deliberate fakery (a log being towed with one branch sticking up).

Many more photos have appeared over the years, and later home movies and video recordings have added to the legend. In most cases, there’s no background to these images. This makes it impossible to tell if the video was taken at Loch Ness or somewhere else, to say nothing of how large or small the objects in the videos may be.

Further explorations at Loch Ness have incorporated sonar and other modern equipment. In 2011, Marcus Atkinson showed sonar images of a 5-foot-wide object following his boat at 75 feet depth. Again, skeptical explanations abounded (a mat of algae floating on the currents).

Despite it all, the legend of Nessie as a giant, long-necked, finned beastie lives on. Today, Nessie even has an official web site and keeps an online diary. Check it out here — and keep watching the water!

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It’s still summer, it’s still hot, and I’m longing to go to the lake. We’ve already talked about sea serpents, so this time let’s talk about lake monsters!

In their own way, lakes are as beautiful and mysterious as the sea. The surface is deceptive. You can’t tell what’s under there most of the time. Hidden objects can suddenly break the surface — even large objects like floating logs. The water is constantly shifting, so things bob and float, distorted by swells. Whether on a boat or a dock, you often don’t know what’s coming toward you. It could be a floating log with a branch sticking up… or it could be a lake monster!

There is an amazing variety of legends and myths about monsters living in lakes.
This list, from a Wikipedia article, includes folklore from 28 countries. The greatest number of reputed lake monsters is in the United States, by far, with 27 on the list (and that doesn’t include a report I was already aware of). Canada, with 19 entries, comes in second. In fact, nearly every big lake in North America seems to have its own mysterious critter.

The cynic in me wants to point out that it’s in affluent countries, like the US, that people have enough time to sit around at their lake cabins, maybe with a drink or two, and see things in the twilight… But! Where’s the fun in that?

The two main kinds of lake monsters are crocodile-like, low-slung with huge jaws, or dragon-like, long and thin with smaller heads on very long necks. There are any number of theories as to that they are. Surviving dinosaurs or whales! Elephants swimming! Floating logs! Large fish! Or some kind of prank…

But you and I know the truth — they are dragons, coming up for a visit. Next time, I’ll talk about some famous lake monsters from North America and beyond.

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